LAS VEGAS (AP) — Boise State couldn’t stop No. 20 New Mexico from going to the free-throw line, and that was a key factor in the Lobos’ win.
New Mexico used 22-for-35 shooting from the line to beat the Broncos 70-67 on Friday night in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament.
Boise State was just 11 for 17 on free throws.
“When they make more free throws than we attempt, yeah, then that’s a big factor,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “They put a lot of foul pressure on you. They’re good at that.
“They’re bigger than us at those two positions where they can pound it and pound it. So, yeah, it’s a big factor.”
The Lobos (26-6) have now gone to the free-throw line 74 times in two tourney games.
Cameron Bairstow, who led New Mexico with 23 points, made 15 of his 18 free-throw attempts. His makes and attempts set a MWC tourney semifinal record, and were third overall in tournament history.
However, free throws were only one of many ways that Bairstow contributed to the victory.
Bairstow, who also had eight rebounds, made a 10-foot baseline jumper with 42.2 seconds left to push New Mexico’s lead to seven, while his two free throws with 3.8 seconds left sealed the win.
Kendall Williams added 16 points for the Lobos, while Deshawn Delaney added 14 points and seven rebounds.
“(I) knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us,” New Mexico coach Craig Neal said. “It always has been when we play them. It’s just a tough matchup for us because they play small and we play big. Really happy for our guys. They hung tough, fought hard.”
The Lobos next face San Diego State in the conference title game on Saturday. The teams split two meetings during the season.
Derrick Marks led the Broncos (21-13) with 20 points. Thomas Bropleh added 16 points before being ejected at the 7:15 mark of the second half, after being called for a flagrant-two for clotheslining Bairstow under the basket.
“The kid made a play on the ball,” Neal said. “He’s playing hard, competing at a high level. I just think he got caught with the rule. The rule is that anything around the head, it’s a flagrant two. I think he made a good play on the ball and ended up getting Cam’s head. There’s no way he did that on purpose. I think it was just an accident. He’s just trying to compete at a high level. … It’s a misfortunate accident or foul that took place.”
The ejection motivated the Lobos as they scored the next four points to extend their lead to six after Delaney picked a misfire off the rim and slammed it home, and Bairstow hit a field goal a minute later.
But the Broncos wouldn’t go away. After falling behind by 10 points early in the first half, the Broncos clawed their way back in the second half to tie the game at 46-all with 10:25 left.
Boise State had a chance to tie it with 3.8 seconds remaining, but New Mexico’s stringent defense forced Nick Duncan to go over-and-back at the center line and turn the ball over back to the Lobos.
With the loss, the Broncos’ NCAA tournament hopes are likely dashed, and they’re now hoping for an invitation to the NIT.
“It’s just tough to make it (to the NCAA tournament) every year,” Rice said. “As you can tell, New Mexico and San Diego State and those teams, they’ve got a system down, they’ve figured out how to get there. Unfortunately we couldn’t get there this year.”
New Mexico, which never trailed Friday night, has now won eight-consecutive conference tournament games, tying the record with San Diego State, which won eight straight spanning the 2010-12 tournaments. The Lobos are aiming to become the first team to win three consecutive Mountain West tournament titles.
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